Spin doctorsPoliticians, Journalists and Spin: Tangled relationships andshifting alliances
Politicians• Their major purpose is to win government against their party opponents. They need positive publication from journalists. Bad publicity can destroy their career.
Journalists• For the media, their basic interest is to secure the audience, which means getting newsworthy material to keep reader interest and fill each news cycle. In this environment journalists become competitive to scoop their competitors by getting newsworthy material out to the audience first.
Relationship• The relationship between politician and journalists then begins to emerge with the demands of their jobs, each needing each other. This relationship is complex.• Politicians are seeking positive publicity for themselves and negative publicity for their opponents.• Journalists seek good stories from politicians, who often have newsworthy items, and where possible they like to scoop stories against their competitors, which politicians can help them achieve through leaking of information to a favourable journalist.
Spin doctors• This dynamic between politicians and journalists has given rise to public relations officers, aka `Spin doctors’ for their use of spinning information to make it favourable to the politician they are working for.• Journalists say it puts a barrier between them and the politicians that prevents them from discovering the real story.• There is a growing prominence of spin doctors for a few reasons.
Reasons• The size of the media now is large and politicians could not keep up with every journalist’s question if it was done individually.• The greater sense of the importance publicity has on politicians, and its growing use as a tool of government.
How it works• Public relation employees allow governments to produce news stories ready for both publication in the print media and broadcast media.• The large number of PR officers also provides a barrier to journalists attempting to uncover information governments want concealed.• Journalists are vulnerable to politicians in that the institution of government gives politicians a status of what information they give out are newsworthy and demand publication.
Disclosure and confidences• Mark Latham points out that political journalism is reliant on sources for much content rather than first hand observation. This is due to much political debate occurring out of the public eye. By the time debate is in public eye (parliament) much of the discussion is publicity-conscious theatre.• It is important for political journalists to develop relationships ith sources and contacts who can break stories and can offer reliable information.
Managing the media• Spin doctors job is to manage what information goes into the media.• The aim is to maximise the impact of good news and minimise the impact of bad news. The job involves influencing the prominence, duration and extent of the news item.• It’s about strategies to expand good news (photo opportunities, crisp soundbites, making politicians available). Strategies for containing bad news is less well known but include declining interviews, giving information close to deadlines and releasing another story to bury the bad story.
Limits of spin• Perfect spin can only occur when there is complete control over an event. If the spin is exposed it can be damaging.• A constraint is that all political parties have PR officers and there is a mutual puncturing of each side’s efforts at spin, which could expose the spin.
Conclusion and question• The intersection of the demands that politicians and journalists face in their occupations leads to them being interdependent on each other. Publicity for politicians and news stories for the journalists.• Spin doctors add a further dimension between journalists and politicians that multiplies the politicians’ advantage. The growing prominence of spin doctors is an inevitable response to the demands of contemporary politics and the media’s expanded centrality in this.• Its prevalence does pose real questions about the quality of democracy.• Do you think having political spin doctors is a problem to democracy?